Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel

The popularity of handheld devices has increased distracted driving problems on the road. Activities like texting, talking on the phone, reading and watching videos take a driver’s attention away from the road. This is not only hazardous for the driver, but also for passengers and innocent bystanders.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving killed 3,142 people in the U.S. in 2020. April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and serves as a reminder for drivers to pay attention to the road while behind the wheel.

Drivers should use extreme caution when traveling near roadwork or utility roadside work zones. Take special care when you see “work ahead” signs or orange cones that signal upcoming work activity. Workers could be improving the road, trimming trees or making repairs along power lines.

Focus on potential hazards when driving after a storm — stay away from downed power poles, lines and electrical equipment. Motorists should never drive over a downed line, as snagging a line could pull down a pole or other equipment and cause other hazards.

When drivers are distracted, there is a risk of an accident with a power pole, as they often line the sides of streets and highways. If you are involved in an auto accident with a power pole or witness one, know the steps to take to stay safe.

In accidents with power poles, it is likely the pole and power lines may fall on your car or nearby, which could energize the area around your car with electricity. If you step out of the car, your body becomes the path to ground for the electricity, which could be deadly. The safest place is almost always inside the car.

While downed lines can show they are live by arcing and sparking with electricity, this is not always the case. Power lines do not always show signs they are live but are just as lethal.

Stay in the car if you are in an accident with a power pole. Call 911 for help and wait until a professional from the electric utility tells you it is safe to leave the car. Warn those who try to come near your car to stay far away.

The only time you should risk leaving the vehicle is if there is a fire, which is rare. In that case, jump clear of the vehicle without touching it and the ground simultaneously. Then hop away with your feet together. That way, there will not be a voltage difference between each foot, which would give electricity the chance to flow through your body, which could be deadly.

According to NHTSA, you may see increased law enforcement on the roadways April 4-11 as part of the national campaign “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” This campaign reminds drivers of the deadly dangers and legal consequences of texting behind the wheel.

In addition, state highway safety offices and law enforcement agencies across the country will take part in Connect to Disconnect on April 7, a 4-hour national distracted driving enforcement and awareness initiative. The goals are to demonstrate a nationwide commitment to enforcing texting laws in a fair and equitable way and to reduce traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers in order to prevent injuries and deaths associated with cell phone use and texting while driving.

Remember, Illinois law prohibits the use of handheld cellphones, texting and using other electronic communications while operating a motor vehicle. Hands-free devices and Bluetooth technology are allowed for persons 19 and older. For more information about electrical safety, visit SafeElectricity.org.